Chelsea struck either side of half-time with goals from Jose Bosingwa and Nicolas Anelka in a 2-0 victory against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium in the Premier League.
The Blues controlled the game and deservedly lead courtesy of right-back Bosingwa’s angled 36th minute effort, the first goal of the Portuguese’s Chelsea career to ease the visitors in front. Despite Stoke’s second-half rally, Anelka capitalised on an error by Leon Cort to sweep home the second, sealing victory on 76 minutes.
Stoke suffered from the offset as long-throw threat Rory Delap was sidelined with a hamstring strain, whilst adding to City’s woes, Blues striker Didier Drogba returned to make his first Premier League start this season.
With Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and now Joe Cole injury victims, Chelsea arrived at the Potteries with a depleted squad, but quickly stamped their authority on the match.
German midfielder Michael Ballack, who recently recovered from a three-week lay-off, forced ex-Sunderland ‘keeper Thomas Sorensen to produce two smart saves, firstly from a 20-yard drive and a threatening header from a corner.
With Stoke appearing bewildered by the opposition’s superior possession and attack, they struggled to match Chelsea and almost went behind when Drogba collected Ballack’s perfect cross and witnessed a sublime flick repelled brilliantly by Sorensen.
Despite Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side engineering the upper hand, Chelsea, who have yet to lose a league match in 2008, Stoke boss Tony Pulis saw his side threaten Chelsea in an isolated first-half effort when ex-Gillingham striker Mamady Sidibe, a hero on the opening day against Aston Villa, struck an awkward close-range header from a corner, comfortably saved by Chelsea ‘keeper Petr Cech.
However despite Stoke’s attacking outlet, which netted five goals in two home matches before meeting the West Londoners, the Blues took the lead through a quick-fire break from neat passing between Bosingwa, Salomon Kalou and Frank Lampard, with the latter’s weighted ball inch-perfect for Bosingwa who thundered an angled drive across goal via Andy Griffin.
Chelsea almost extended their lead shortly after the break when first, Lampard’s smart run and drive deflected narrowly wide, and secondly Abdoulaye Faye’s mistake allowed Florent Malouda to strike an awkward drive, which crashed off the crossbar after a smart one-handed reaction save from Sorensen.
Although whilst Chelsea probed consistently and came close to sealing the match, the hosts gradually managed to force their way back in to the match and with their lofty defenders Cort and Griffin moving forward for set-pieces, they began to cause problems.
As Chelsea retreated deeper, Stoke almost capitalised on a nervy period for the visitors and Cort’s emphatic header caused chaos, only for the alert John Obi Mikel to nod off the line to safety.
But despite Stoke’s consistent second-half possession, they rarely threatened in the final third allowing Chelsea to react on the counter-attack and through half-time substitute Anelka, who replaced Kalou and had struck over from a tight angle in the second period, the Frenchman netted his fourth strike in seven games with a low drive across goal from 15 yards, despite Sorensen making slight contact but unable to prevent the goal.
Chelsea almost added to the proceedings when Lampard missed a good opportunity late on, but Scolari’s team suffered no further from Stoke and recorded a comfortable 2-0 victory.
Despite a spirited Stoke City display, which Pulis can be proud of, Scolari will be delighted with a professional performance which saw Chelsea return to the top of the table, after Arsenal’s shock 2-1 defeat by Hull City allowed Chelsea to head the league alongside Liverpool on 14 points.
Stoke: Sorensen; Griffin, Cort, Abdoulaye Faye, Higginbotham; Lawrence (Tonge 65), Diao, Olofinjana, Cresswell; Kitson (Fuller 52), Sidibe (Amdy Faye 81).
Subs Not Used: Simonsen, Whelan, Soares, Sonko.
Booked: Griffin, Cresswell.
Chelsea: Cech; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, Ashley Cole; Obi, Kalou (Anelka 46), Ballack (Ferreira 89), Lampard; Malouda, Drogba (Belletti 73).
Subs Not Used: Hilario, Ivanovic, Sinclair, Bridge.
Goals: Bosingwa 36, Anelka 76.
Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).